Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Trip Back In Time


Map picture

A Trip Back In Time

Yesterday we visited the small and little known Island of Mozambique. It has the unique distinction of being home to the oldest European building in the southern hemisphere, the Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte. Built in 1522, it is housed inside the oldest complete fort still standing in sub-Saharan Africa, the Fort of Sao Sebastiao which was constructed over a fifty year period starting in 1558. These structures were built by the Portuguese, and to this day that is the common language on this island. For these reasons, this island has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site.

At the time the fort was constructed, the island was not connected to the mainland and thus it was a relatively secure location to house this structure which was designed in large measure as the treasury for all of the goods that were being collected along the African coast. It was, of course, also home to a prison, and a large number of troops were stationed there in an effort to secure the Portuguese hold on this part of the African continent. Today there is a bridge which connects the island to the mainland and a nearby airport.

The island is quite small being only 3 km in length and about 500 m in width. Since this was our first port in the country of Mozambique, our ship, of course, had to go through the lengthy clearance procedures with the usual large number of attendant officials. Once cleared, we were able to travel ashore by zodiac for our walking tour of the island. I had visited Mozambique on one prior occasion, having gone to the city of Maputo. At that time, I made a joke to the effect that the national flag of Mozambique was the plastic bag because that city was literally covered with them blowing in the wind and rolling across the ground. In truth, the flag of Mozambique is one of only two in the world that is decorated by an AK-47. The other country with a flag bearing a firearm is Guatamala.While Mozambique is a large country, it is one of the poorest in Africa. It borders South Africa to the south and Tanzania to the north. While initially the little island of Mozambique was home to the Portuguese governor, upon achieving independence, it also became the first capital of the country.

The skies were crystal clear and the water extremely calm producing some spectacular vistas. Once ashore, we were greeted by local dancers with a singing of welcome to their island. We were divided into several groups, and our group first headed for the Fort. We were surrounded by large numbers of children most of whom were curious, but many of whom were begging for money. Our little entourage was largely protected from this onslaught by the tour staff and expedition team, not to mention the number of police who continually appeared out of nowhere. Indeed one of them was even carrying a submachine gun, and when I took his picture and he saw me, I really thought that he was going to come and grab my camera right out of my hand. Instead he walked by me with a nasty glare and a finger in my face, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Our walk to the Fort took roughly 45 minutes which sounds simple enough until you factor in the unbelievable intense heat. I am guessing that the heat index was easily over 100, and even though we moved from one shady spot to the next, pausing to rest until we cooled down, by the time we reached the Fort most of us were soaking wet. I elected to go in the Fort and walk around. I will admit that it was very interesting, but by the same token it had a large number of steps and steep ramps to negotiate which I found difficult as did many of our other guests.

After visiting the Fort and seeing the Famed Chapel, we walked back to the center of town where we visited the residence of the former governor which is now a museum. Like most of the town, this structure was built from stone, and it was in such good shape that you could easily imagine the opulence of its era. Set high above the town, it had a good breeze through it which made it livable in spite of the extreme temperatures outside.

I must admit that while I did manage to do everything, I literally became sick from the heat and departed the tour a little early. Once back onboard all I could do was to drink water and take a cold shower.

Overnight our ship cruised north along the coast to reach Ibo Island. We were to have arrived early this morning, but during the evening the ship apparently encountered some mechanical difficulties requiring us to slow down. Our arrival was late, and as absolutely incredible as this may sound – even though we have been cleared into the country, we had to go through another clearance procedure to enter the city. This of course involved another large team to come aboard. Even though we are running a little late, they offered a beach for swimming for what was left of the morning, and this afternoon they are going to take us to shore for a 2 ½ hour walk basically to see a smaller and much less important Fort. Once again the heat outside is almost unbearable, and given that tomorrow is supposed to be one of the highlights of our trip – Lisa and I have decided to stay on board today in order that we can enjoy that adventure.

Where we are in the world, today is New Year’s Eve. So let me wish everyone our best wishes for the New Year, and I will be back to you in 2017.


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